Maria Kanellis Bennett Is Relishing Her New Role With Ring Of Honor, Says It Feels Like A Full Circle Moment
Maria Kanellis Bennett is helping build the future of women’s wrestling in her new role with Ring Of Honor.
Maria Kanellis Bennett recently spoke with WrestleZone Managing Editor Bill Pritchard and spoke about how she was brought back to Ring Of Honor, as well as what her new role entails. Kanellis’ second stint with WWE ended after a nearly three-year run, an unfortunate cut made by WWE in response to the pandemic last April. Soon after, she came home to Ring Of Honor, although it was in a new role than she had during her initial tenure with the company.
Maria introduced “The Experience”, a social platform where fans can discuss ROH, and now she’s since been named to the company’s Board Of Directors. Maria spoke about how she ended up coming back to ROH, and how she knew she wanted to help push women’s wrestling further with her next career move.
“I think Ring Of Honor knew that whatever I was gonna do next in my career was going to be to help others more, and working the women’s division was the first thing that popped in my mind. Then when I talked to them about it, they were like ‘yes!’ and it all just came together. When I was first released [by WWE] I didn’t know if I was going to come back to wrestling because with COVID,” she explained, “we didn’t know if it was going to be a couple months thing, or is this gonna be a few years?
“Mike [Bennett, her husband] and I talked about if I was going to take a step back completely and use my degree and go into another field and he would go on the road for months at a time and not bringing the virus home with him,” Maria explained, “so there were a lot of things coming into play. So, when we got around to having this conversation with Ring Of Honor, instantly it was something to work with the women, have more of a backstage role, to bring the women’s division back to Ring Of Honor. So, right off the bat that’s what I wanted to do and that’s what they wanted me to do.”
— MariaKanellisBennett (@MariaLKanellis) May 5, 2021
Maria not only has tenure in the wrestling business, but she has also been actively working on pursuing her educational and business goals as well. In between her respective stays in Ring Of Honor, Maria earned a degree in Sports, Entertainment and Event Management and also started her Master of Business Administration program last year, in addition to starting her own event planning company. When asked if those avenues helped transition into an executive role in wrestling, Maria said that she is still trying to learn as much as she could but explained how those experiences outside of wrestling guided her.
“You learn how to deal with people. You’re really hands-on with event planning, especially with weddings because it’s a very personal event just like women’s wrestling careers. When you’re bringing in a woman to have a match or to have them stay long-term, you have to remember that they’re still human beings. This is their career, this is their livelihood and this is their passion, and you have to keep that in mind,” Maria explained. “So, in that sense dealing with brides and working with brides and working with women in wrestling, I do use those experiences to help guide me.
“Also with my degree in Sports, Entertainment and Event Management, it’s a little bit of everything that I’ve learned from HR to budgeting to writing out an event day script,” Maria said, “from opening and closing of an event from load in and load out. I think one of my final projects was 75 pages long because it was everything, it was running a giant arena. So, you learn about the ins and outs of all of that but the best way to learn is experience. So, I’m learning on a daily basis with my new role and it’s very important to me to have open communication and to be a sponge and to want to learn.”
In recent years, women like Madison Rayne, Gail Kim and Brandi Rhodes have found success in non-wrestling and production roles, and Kanellis Bennett is in a unique role on the Board Of Directors with Ring Of Honor. When asked about the importance of setting a precedent for future women in her position, Maria said that it’s becoming easier for women to transition into new roles as they are established, but it wasn’t always perceived to be that way.
“The hardest thing is for people to visualize things and to be able to see themselves in different roles, or for the people in management to see a woman in that role because they haven’t seen it before. ‘What does that look like?’ Having a woman come in to produce her own show, or having a woman come in to work with Heels at AEW, or what does it look like to have Madison [Rayne] producing and writing?” Maria explained, “And once those things are starting to be established, it becomes easier.”
“I mean, I talk about Renee [Paquette] because all of a sudden, you see a woman at commentary talk about wrestling in more of a business sense rather than backstage as a wrestler,” she added, “and that’s really important because now the fans can see a different side of women in wrestling. So, this is a gradual process and there have been a lot of women in the past that have helped out with these things, that have worked through these things but they haven’t been as visual. So, it’s finding those people whether it be Madison or whether it be Renee or whether it be Gail [Kim] and honing in on that and how are they doing it and how are they representing themselves and trying to do that same thing in my own way.”
— MariaKanellisBennett (@MariaLKanellis) May 12, 2021
Noting it’s been a gradual process, Maria also agreed that the “good old boy” attitude doesn’t work anymore, adding that there’s too much transparency in society now for it to continue and it all comes back to respect. She said she has that with Ring Of Honor, and she’ll know she finally succeeded when she’s not seen as a female employee anymore, but just a great employee.
“There’s a way of protecting the business that doesn’t mean being a dickhead. You don’t need to be like that. You can protect the business and not be [like that], and it’s called respect. Luckily in Ring Of Honor, they respect me and I respect them and we just do our work. Eventually, I don’t want them to see me as a ‘girl’ or ‘she’, I just want them to see me as another employee that’s doing her job really well. And that is when I know that I have succeeded, when I’m no longer looked at as a girl, and I’m just looked at as a person doing their job.”
Kanellis started her career in WWE, but she reached new heights with Ring Of Honor and hopes to do it again a second time. When asked if coming back to Ring Of Honor this time still felt like a full-circle moment in some way, she agreed and said she’s grown a lot, but it feels like she’s back where she’s supposed to be.
“Yeah, when I first started at WWE I thought that. [I thought] that was it, like that’s the only place in the world you can work. I was also 22 and from a small town and I didn’t have a lot of a worldly view, so while I was there I started to learn about other wrestling companies,” she explained, “and being in Ring Of Honor the first time around really opened my eyes of what it’s like to have a little bit more creative freedom and to find myself. That was just the biggest thing for me and that’s what changed my career so much and the trajectory of it, because I found a totally new character that I could be. I was able to broaden out in that sense. So, now being back in Ring Of Honor and being able to give this opportunity to others, it’s great, like it does feel full circle, it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be.”